Created by visionaries, the Abbey Theatre has always been an arena for art and ideas. The Abbey Theatre was founded as a national theatre for Ireland by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904. These revolutionaries defined the ambition of the Abbey Theatre with their manifesto “to bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland”.


A Brief Timeline 

  • The generous patronage of Miss Annie Horniman allowed for the conversion, by architect Joseph Holloway, of the Mechanics Institute in Abbey Street and an adjoining building on Marlborough Street into the Abbey Theatre. The theatre opened on 27 December 1904 with three performances including premieres of On Baile’s Strand by W.B. Yeats and Spreading the News by Lady Gregory.
  • In 1907, The Playboy of the Western World by fellow Abbey director, J.M. Synge caused riots in the audience. Later in 1912, during the first tour of America, the cast of The Playboy of the Western World by J.M. Synge were arrested in Philadelphia for performing “immoral or indecent” plays. The case was dismissed.
  • In 1909, the Abbey Directors struck a note for the freedom of expression with the first production of The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet by G.B. Shaw. It had been refused a licence for performance in England by the Lord Chamberlain’s office.
  • 1910, Miss Annie Horniman, the generous provider of our first building, unexpectedly severs her connection with the Abbey Theatre because the Abbey’s Directors did not close the theatre following the death of King Edward VII.
  • In 1912, the Abbey Theatre School of Acting is established. Running for many decades it produced a remarkable crop of Irish actors from Farrell Pelly, Nora Desmond (from the early days in 1912)  Ronnie Masterson, Des Cave, Niall Buggy, Stephen Rea, Colm Meaney.  Many of the students graduated to join the renowned Abbey Theatre Company.
  • 1916 sees the revolutionary fervour of the Cultural Revival move from art to action and from the stage onto the streets. Members of the Abbey Acting Company and staff are all closely linked with the 1916 Rising. Sean Connolly, who was scheduled to appear on stage that day was the first Rebel fatality in the Rising. Visit our Google Cultural Institute 1916 Exhibition which looks at the influence of the Irish Literary Revival in the lead up to the events of Easter week 1916.
  • In 1926, during the first run of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars a riot broke out. Some of the audience objected to his representation of the 1916 Rising. Yeats took to the stage: “You have disgraced yourselves again. Is this to be an ever recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?”
  • In 1927, the Peacock Theatre opened as an experimental annex to the Abbey Theatre and a home to other amateur companies. The Peacock Theatre also served as the home for the Abbey School of Acting and for the Abbey School of Ballet founded by Ninette de Valois in 1928.
  • Tragically in 1951, the original buildings of the Abbey Theatre were damaged by fire during the run of The Plough and the Stars. Ironically, the play closes to the strains of Keep the Home Fires Burning.
  • The Abbey re-located to the Queen’s Theatre on Pearse Street. 15 years to the day later, on 18 July 1966, the Abbey moved back to its current home, designed by Michael Scott & Associates.
  • The Abbey’s current home was opened by President Éamon de Valera who once graced the Abbey Stage as an amateur actor.

Learn more about our history on our 110 Moments of the Abbey micro-site or watch our Digital Backstage Tour.

Oral History Project 

The Oral History Project is a series of interviews with actors, writers, directors and staff who share their Abbey story.


“…can you imagine learning verse from somebody who had learnt at the knee of W.B. Yeats? Amazing!” – Stephen Rea talks with Niall Buggy about Ria Mooney, a member of the Abbey Acting Company.


Listen to the stories we have collected here.

Full interviews are available for consultation by appointment. Please contact